JONESBORO — The Tuesday fatal crash of a cropduster in Greene County highlights the risks of agricultural aviation.
Northeast Arkansas, with its large number of rice fields, is the home to many agricultural aviation companies. And while it’s a lucrative business, it does have its risks.
Hunter Drope, 28, died in the crash, according to Greene County Sheriff Steve Franks.
Other fatal accidents include:
On Aug. 21, 2020, in Mississippi County, a Tennessee pilot died when his cropduster crashed.
A Georgia man died in July 2017 when his cropduster crashed near Cash.
A cropduster pilot was killed in Clay County in June 2010.
In 2012 two cropdusters collided in mid-air in Greene County, killing one pilot and injuring a second.
But Katherine Holmstrom, executive director of Little Rock-based Arkansas Agricultural Aviation Association, said her organization stresses safety for pilots.
“Every year we have an annual convention and present a program by a national organization. It’s a four-hour security and safety presentation,” she said. “Safety is forefront to us.”
The association, which has about 300 members that include pilots and ground personnel, has a yearly convention and several meetings during the year.
According to the association’s website, “The Arkansas Agricultural Aviation Association (AAAA) is a non-profit organization that represents the agricultural aviation industry in Arkansas. Our membership is comprised of operators/managers, pilots, ground grew and associates.
“Members of AAAA are highly trained individuals specializing in and dedicated to the safe and ethical application of crop protection products.”
Holmstrom, whose grandfather, father and brother have all been cropduster pilots, said a cropduster pilot must undergo rigorous training to be able to maneuver the complex moves in a cropduster.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of cropdusting.
Kevin Carpenter, a pilot at Quinn Flying Service on Southwest Drive, said making sure one is hydrated and not fatigued by heat is important. He said many planes today are air-conditioned, which he considers a safety measure.
The average salary of a cropduster pilot was $58,186 or about $28 an hour, according to www.salaryexpert.com
According to Aerocorner.com:
“Despite technological advances and the aviation industry becoming highly monitored and safety conscious, crop-dusting remains a ‘dangerous line of work’ for its pilots. In 2017, there were 67 incidents involving agricultural airplanes, with seven of these resulting in a fatality.”
The website also said the risk of death in a cropduster was similar to the risk in automobiles.